When the Big Lottery Fund met two feuding gangs
BIG convened a meeting recently with representatives from two rival inner-city gangs, which gave me real pause for thought.
The turf war between these gangs has been extremely damaging, costing lives and generating fear and uncertainty that has rippled across their communities for more than a decade.
Now, with a fragile truce being negotiated between the two groups, they are looking at what they might do to establish the foundations of a more peaceful future.
In response, BIG used its contacts and connections to convene a range of organisations – funders, thinkers and practitioners – with deep personal experience of working with young people and resolving inner-city challenges to meet with them and offer advice on how they might want to move things forwards.
Listening to the former gang members speak, I was struck by how raw and inexperienced they were about our world of funding, think tanks and policy reviews. Unmediated, the young people talked openly about their – often brutal – experience of gang culture. How could they secure a solution to the years of conflict? Some of us were equally raw and inexperienced as to the realities of the challenges facing them.
Lasting change will never happen without their active commitment. Any number of strategies could be written about them or policies imposed upon them but nothing will be more powerful than the young people themselves, at the very centre of these problems, sensing the benefits of a better future, wanting to secure it for their families and being given the opportunity to consider for themselves what they ought to do next.
While the primary purpose of our meeting was for the young people to take away inspiration to develop options and contacts for the future, it was clear that they were by no means the only ones learning a lot from the experience. Even the most experienced organisations in the room not only picked up a great deal from just hearing the young people’s perspectives first hand, they also benefited from what they’d heard from other experts in the room. There was a real sense of a common cause and understanding.
I’m under no illusions that our good cause cash is what attracts most people to BIG. However, it’s been fascinating recently how often people have commented positively and publicly about our ability to bring people round a table to generate collective excitement and momentum behind an issue. Our contact book of amazing people from the length and breadth of the UK at street level as well as the corridors of local and national power is an asset we should be generously willing to offer the sector to help address 2012’s most stubborn of social policy issues.